Sunday, November 30, 2014


Teaching is a unique profession that those not in education often do not fully understand. People ask me all the time, "Why are you a teacher?" Each day I have a different answer to that question based on an experience from the day. I am a teacher and I am thankful.  Maddie, a former student, wrote a beautiful essay about me and I earned the honor of B93.3's Teacher of the Month Award. This month was filled with compliments, stories and memories about the award, my students, and my profession. I always teach my students the importance of reflecting on struggle, growth and celebrating success. I have had more than my share that led me to this point of overwhelming gratitude. I am especially thankful for my students, my family, and my professional growth.

I am incredibly thankful for my students over my twenty years of teaching.  The relationships I have built with them will be remembered for a lifetime. I treasure all the notes, visits, and updates from my former and current students. I have discovered that being a Language Arts teacher is a special gift because you are able to learn more about students through their writing, blogging and one on one conferences. My 6th grade students have always mentored younger students with writing and technology.  When I moved to Pewaukee School District, a few of my former Merton students who were experienced bloggers mentored my new 6th grade students and continue to comment on our blogs.  They are dedicated writers and mentors, and wanted to share their experience with younger students because they knew they could teach their skills to others.  I am so proud of them.  They were willing to do this for students they didn't even know at a different school.

I have also discovered that my students are the ones who help me stay the course when my life seems upside down personally or professionally.  My classroom is always a place I feel at home and accepted.  I hope my students feel that way too.  It was a hard decision for me to leave Merton after 19 years, and I wasn't sure how my students would take the news.  They understood and respected my decision and said all the right things. Students seem to find the solutions to problems that adults find complicated.  I love that about them. They take risks, innovate, collaborate, talk, smile, laugh, cry, create, fail, try again, write, all with me throughout the day.  Why am I a teacher? I am a teacher because of my students and I am so thankful for the time I get to spend with them.

Teaching is a profession that takes an enormous amount of time and dedication. You need a family that supports and understands your level of commitment to your career, but also find a balance between work and home.  I am so thankful for my husband, Chris,  who is my biggest supporter and holds our family together. He does this along with his professional role of Middle School Principal.  We have two amazing boys, 9 and 2, so our schedules are crazy.  I am grateful that he values my role as a teacher just as much as his role as a principal. We are equals, personally and professionally. The time he spends with our boys allows me to work on my professional passions. Chris is not only a great leader at work, but also at home.  I am so thankful our boys have a role model like him.

I am thankful to be selected Teacher of the Month in November for personal reasons as well as professional. 10 years ago, my mom passed away in November. She was also a teacher who made a difference in the lives of many middle school students in West Bend, WI.  Her birthday was also in November. Being raised by two dedicated educators, and now following that tradition with my own family, I am filled with pride. Why am I a teacher? I am a teacher because I have a family that supports me and has taught me the importance of education. I will always be a lifelong learner, and I hope that our boys will value education as much as my husband and I do.

Professional growth and change is something I always considered a necessity in education.  Not everyone agrees with me, but when we consider the fact that our world is ever changing, we need to look at our practices as educators and realize that professional growth and change should be ongoing.  This year I am thankful for the Pewaukee School District because they believe in professional growth and change. I have found a wonderful home at Horizon Elementary School.  My new leaders, Pete Gull and Jodi Swanson, start our staff meetings with "appreciations" for each other.  I leave our meetings with all I need to know about standards-based grading and SLO's, but I also feel thankful knowing more about my colleagues and all the great things they are doing.  I miss all my teacher friends I left after 19 years at Merton, but was welcomed by new friends at Horizon. Change is scary because it seems unknown, but if you are in a position where you are no longer growing, it's time to move on.  I am so thankful I did.  Teaching is the ultimate opportunity for professional growth and an opportunity to follow your passions.  Why am I a teacher?  I am a teacher because I believe in the power of learning and growth.

As teachers, we all have days and lessons that don't go well.  We have students who don't like us. We have parents who disagree with a decision we made. I admit that I am one of those teachers who take those criticisms to heart. I wish I could "Shake It Off" like Taylor Swift advises me to do in such a wonderful sing song way, but instead I obsess over it. I want to be the best teacher I can, and any criticism is hard to hear. That is why I wanted to write this today.  To remind myself how lucky I was to be recognized by Maddie in November of 2014, along with all the other letters, cards and emails I have received over the years.  As educators we should be thankful to everyone who supports us, celebrate, remember all our hard work, and do our best to shake off the occasional criticism.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Just Keep Pedaling

Bike...check. Helmet...check. Fear...check. Anxiety...check. For many people a bike ride is something that brings joy and happy memories.  But for me, cycling  is a dangerous sport and not something an uncoordinated person like myself would prefer to do, especially on a family vacation.

I love the sport itself.  I always enjoyed watching it on TV, the Tour de France, the dedication of the riders, and what it takes to be a successful cyclist.  My family takes the sport very seriously and rides often.  This is what motivated me to finally want to get a bike of my own and overcome my fears.

I started to think about why I felt a pit in my stomach towards a sport everyone else loved. I looked to my childhood bike rides. They were very different from today.  Our bikes were cheap, we had no helmets, and I was not a skilled rider. Our homes were far away from our destinations in West Bend, so that meant that we needed to travel far distances on country highways.  I remembered the horror of the cars speeding past me at 55 miles per hour. The dangerous rides were never worth the trinkets or the candy we purchased at the stores once we finally arrived, especially since we had to turn around and ride the same distance home. Luckily I survived and found other forms of exercise that were more enjoyable and less dangerous.

A few years ago, cycling tried to bully me into giving it another go on a girl's weekend in Shawano, Wisconsin. There were many women who were there to relax, but others wanted to use this time to take on new challenges.  I was torn, because one of my dear friends and role models, Jolie, arrived. She was a skilled cyclist and was going to try the infamous bike trails nearby.  I was so inspired by her. As she got her bike ready, she shared her fears with me.  I love that about her.  Even though she is so talented, she is not afraid to express how she is feeling about what she is about to do.  I watched her ride towards the wooded area and I admired her so much.  I wondered if I could get past my own fears and try this myself. While she was gone, I sat in my chair and read my fashion magazines with such mixed emotions. I was enjoying my relaxing time, but was also jealous that I wasn't getting down and dirty on those trails and facing my fears on that bike.  A while later, I saw Jolie walking next to her bike.  She screamed, "Julie! I scraped my leg!"  I ran up to her and saw she had torn her leg open.  There were left over artifacts from the trail remaining in her open wound.  I was heartbroken for her.  The trails were so tight that riders could barely fit through.  It must have been so painful.  I was so proud of my brave friend for even attempting to tackle these treacherous trails, but I was once again convinced that there are better ways to exercise and spend time with friends outdoors.

I was able to escape the cycling curse a few more years until we started a tradition of taking a trip to Door County each summer with my brother's family.  The first two years I was in the clear because one year I was pregnant and the second year Jackson was too little to ride.  This year there were no excuses.  Everyone was hitting the trail, including me.  John, my father-in-law, gave me his bike which was in wonderful shape and my sweet husband got me all the other equipment I needed.  He got everything else ready for our boys too.  As luck would have it, a few days before our Door County trip I had dinner plans with Jolie, so I could talk through my fears with her and ask her some coaching questions that I didn't want to ask my husband (all you married people out there know EXACTLY what I am talking about).  One thing that worried her was my pedals.  I had clips on my pedals.  She suggested I get rid of those.  It really helped to have this time with Jolie before the trip to not only ease my mind, but also build my confidence.  I will be the least experienced rider, and I don't want to let anyone down.

We arrived in Door County and we were blessed with beautiful weather. Everyone was excited to get on our bikes and head out on the trails, including me! I couldn't decide who I was ultimately doing this for. I felt such mixed emotions as I headed out on the trails.  I wanted to prove to my entire family of skilled riders that I could do this too, but I think I really wanted to do this for myself.  I have gone through a lot of changes personally and professionally lately so I wondered if achieving this small goal would replace the feelings of loss I have felt.  At first I was uneasy on the bike. I didn't understand the clips on the pedals and I had to think about the gears. Soon, I felt the wind off Lake Michigan and the sound of the birds. I forgot about the pedals and I listened to the crunch of the wheels on the trail as my speed increased and my heart raced.  I found myself giggling and hoped that no one could hear me.  I loved it.  It was a sport where I could take it all in and enjoy the time with my family, and most important, my computer was at home.  I had no way to work except to just process in my head. I finally got it.

I was feeling so confident that I had accomplished my goal that I forgot that I was an inexperienced rider. We were coming to a busy road. I suddenly stopped and forgot that I had clips on my pedals.  I couldn't get my shoe out fast enough and my bike tipped over.  Of course it was at a spot where other riders were also stopped.  I quickly picked up my bike and examined my scraped leg.  I had flashbacks of Jolie's leg as I heard Ethan say with a concerned whisper, "Mom, are you ok?"
I held back the tears, and said, "Yes buddy, I'm fine."  Physically I was fine, but emotionally, I was crushed. I could have cared less about all the strangers who just saw me fall.  I tell my students all the time to take risks and not to worry if you fall.  I truly believe that.  But what broke my heart was that my boys just saw me fall.  I don't ever want my kids to think that I can't accomplish something I set out to do.  I know that sounds silly, but I want them to believe Mom can do anything, at least for a little while, and I just fell.  I, of course, wanted to scream at my husband since he put the clips on my bike, but it wasn't his fault.  It was just one of those situations where you need to brush yourself off and get back on your bike and keep pedaling. So that's what I did. As I look back on that day I realize that this is a better lesson for my boys to learn. More often in life we remember the imperfect bike rides, not the perfect ones.  I want them to remember both, but I want them to know that if they do fall off, it's ok!  They should just brush the trail off, get back on the bike and keep pedaling.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

A Tribute to My Last Loop

For the last 12 of my 19 years of teaching at Merton Intermediate School I have looped 5th to 6th grade with my students and loved it.  It gave us a chance to continue our curriculum, relationships, and the 4C's (communication, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking) for two years.  I was heartbroken by the decision to end looping at Merton knowing how beneficial it was both academically and socially for students. Luckily, I found comfort in the fact that I would be ending looping with an amazing group of students who I will never forget.

I still remember the first weeks with my class in the Fall of 2012. I quickly discovered that this group was a handful. They were chatty, easily distracted, innovative, and wanted to be challenged. Our Principal, Mr. Posick, always joked that I had a room full of me.  He was right. I knew that once we had our classroom routines and procedures established, we could soar, and we did.

We started by learning about the 4C's (communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity) since they would be the foundation for all activities throughout our two year journey together. As we experienced a 4C in a lesson, we would celebrate the experience by posting them on the wall of our classroom.  We not only learned the 4C's, but built relationships within our classroom community.  We created PLN's (Personal Learning Networks) so we could benefit from the expertise and advice of our classmates during pair shares and conferences in Reader's and Writer's Workshop. At this point, we were ready to expand our audience to a global community.

When I introduced blogging to this group of talented writers in 5th grade, I couldn't imagine we would be where we are today.  Our 6th Grade blog on Kidblog has had 23,285 visitors this year.  We have blogging buddies as far away as New Zealand, and we have had comments from famous authors Tom Angleberger, Ralph Fletcher and Peter and Paul Reynolds.  The reason for our success?  Student buy-in to this wonderful educational opportunity.  We learned about digital citizenship and expectations, and my students followed them carefully.  They entered the global community anxious to reach a larger audience, and treated this gift with respect and kindness.  The writing talents in their blogs shined through with the help of Writer's Workshop.  They turned their small moments into reflective, relevant blog posts. Enjoy our last blog post, "Here I Come 7th Grade!"

My students were always willing to mentor other Merton students, especially in the areas of literacy and
technology.  We had buddies in Kindergarten, 1st grade, 3rd grade and 8th grade.  We proudly expanded our PLN and shared our Chromebooks with our Merton Primary students so they could learn from us and share our 1:1 devices.  It also allowed us to share our published pieces from Writer's Workshop and they could share what they had written.  The more we celebrated and expanded our audience, the more purposeful our classroom experiences became.  I was overflowing with pride as I watched my students teach their kindergarten buddies about text structure and features with their nonfiction books.

Like every other class, we had our tough times, too.  We didn't always want to work hard and treat each other with kindness. I decided it was time for our class to "Be Uncomfortable".  This idea came from Classroom Habitudes by Angela Maiers. She reminds us that if we do the same things every day, we are not really growing.  We only learn and grow when we are challenged to expand our comfort zones. I challenged my class to be comfortable with being uncomfortable, and to remind themselves that their brains get stronger every time they challenge it.  We rose to many challenges this year and built some strong brains in the process.

Our class went through some personal successes and losses which we shared with our class.  We had undefeated Chiefs football players, Lake Country Lacrosse players as well as baseball, softball, volleyball, soccer and basketball players.  We have many talented singers and musicians.  Our tech gurus amazed us throughout the year with app creation and Passion Projects. One student was even part of a  World Record Waterski Pyramid. We also had our share of sadness with loss of pets and family members.  I lost my Grandmother this year, and found comfort sharing memories through small moment stories with my students.

We were extremely fortunate to have wonderful parent support the last two years.  Parents were always there to help us with homework, class parties, treats, fieldtrips, and photos.  The photos from Celebration Day were taken by our "class photographer" Mrs. Bossell-Mehling. Thank you parents for all you do!

I am always proud of the teamwork and sportsmanship demonstrated by my class on Celebration Day. Both years my class worked together on the events and congratulated the winning team afterwards.  They made the most of the day and had fun, even when we lost an event.  This year our teamwork paid off and we won! We had the opportunity to play dodge ball against the teachers at the end of the day.  I hope this is a memory they will always cherish.  I know I will.

I started this year by asking my students to "Be Brave in 6th Grade!"  I kicked this off by playing the song Brave by Sara Bareilles at the start of each Writer's Workshop class to inspire us to take risks in our writing. We took risks in our writing, and so much more.  Many students took unbelievable risks on the rock wall and high ropes at Camp Minikani.  They dissected animals in science, which for some students required a lot of bravery!  We also had student-led conferences, independent blogs, friendship issues, and many more changes and challenges throughout our year that required us to be brave.  We did it, with the help of our classmates.

Now its time to be brave as we venture towards a new chapter in our lives.  When we wrote memoirs earlier this year we learned about how Australian Aborigines go on "walkabouts".  It's time for us to go on our "walkabouts" and head out and follow our own paths.  For the past 19 years I have sent my students off to 7th grade knowing that I am still here at Merton as a safety net in case they need me.  This will be the first time that I won't be. Are they ready?  Am I ready?  I know the answer is yes on both counts, but the tears still come. The connections we have made over the last two years make it difficult to part, but also give me the confidence knowing my students are going to 7th grade with a toolbox filled with skills, passion, and joy.
To my magnificent learners, you are truly going places!  In the words of Peter and Paul Reynolds, don't forget to always go above and beyond in everything you do.  Take care of each other and remember the relationships we have built over the last two years.  Keep reading!  Notice small moments and share them in your writing. There will always be an audience interested in your work.  Most of all, celebrate who you are today and everyday.  You are a gift to be treasured.

Merton Awards Assembly Selfie

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Wanna Hangout? Google Hangouts for Education

I am always looking for ways to create opportunities for my students to experience an audience outside of our classroom. I want them to know that their work will reach a global reader via our blog, Padlets and Google Apps for Education.  The development of our global audience started when I joined Twitter. My students loved reading the comments from other students, educators and famous authors. These connections gave us valuable feedback and we enjoyed building relationships with new digital learners and adding them to our PLN (Personal Learning Networks).

We enjoyed connecting through our writing, but we wanted more. Who were these people, really? What did they look like? What was their classroom and school like? So many questions. My class is a group who likes to talk, a lot! I am amazed by the conversations they have during book clubs, conferences, pair shares and strategy groups during Reader's and Writer's Workshop. They want to talk to their new friends in their global PLN. Honestly, so did I. I decided to look for opportunities to connect with our buddy classes via Google Hangout.
Two years ago my students had a Google Hangout with Adam from Google about 1:1 Chromebooks.

Merton was one of 3 districts in the country that implemented the first round of available Chromebooks. My students shared with Adam what they liked about the Chromebooks, and what concerns they had. Adam shared some troubleshooting suggestions and gave them a "sneak-peak" into what was coming next for some of the tools, like Google Presentation. My students left that Hangout inspired and knew that they were part of the future of Chromebooks for Education.

Our first Hangout this year was with Steve Pratt's 6th Grade class. We connected for Digital Learning Day via our blogs. We both did comic web site review blog posts and had our students comment on each other's posts. We decided to have our students meet via Hangout. I set up a Padlet for Mr. Pratt's class so they could prepare some questions ahead of time so we would be prepared for our Hangout. On the day of the Hangout, my students were so excited. I projected the Hangout and we dialed Mr. Pratt. When his face appeared on the screen, my students screamed and jumped out of their seats. Mr. Pratt and I gave the students a few minutes to chat and just enjoy the new experience. Next, they started asking each other questions about their classroom, school, and learning opportunities. Finally, it was time to say good bye. We ended our Hangout and my class and I reflected on the experience.

Our next Hangout was for World Read Aloud Day on March 5th. Jill Barnes and I connected a few years ago on Twitter and our students have been blogging together. We are always looking for exciting, innovative ways to connect our readers/writers. We decided Google Hangout would be the perfect way to have our students read aloud to their PLN's on this important day. It was a wonderful collaboration. We finally "met" each other digitally, and celebrated the right to read and share our stories.

Our most recent Hangout was for our Passion Projects. I was introducing Passion Projects for the first time this year, so I decided to contact my friend and expert, Paul Solarz. Paul and his students have been working on Passion Projects all year, so I knew they could give my students some advice to get started and help them form their own essential questions. Paul's students were so helpful. I requested that Paul's students post advice to our Padlet so we had some direction before our Hangout. We wanted to make sure our time with Paul's students was valuable and we asked important questions that would help us with the next steps of our project. This Hangout was different than the others because it was a project think tank session. One class shared their knowledge and excitement about a topic while the other group took notes and asked questions. The collaboration and communication between the students was so energizing, and they just met! This motivated my students to dive in and get started on their projects. I know that I could not have created this experience myself. This was the result of Paul, his extraordinary learners, and Google Hangout.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

If I Build It, Will They Read?

This year I added Reader's Workshop to my Language Arts Curriculum. My students and I already loved Writer's Workshop and were excited to follow the workshop model in Reading as well. I knew that if I wanted Reader's Workshop to be successful in my classroom, I needed to create a supportive environment that not only taught reading strategies, but fostered a love of reading. I thought about our experience with Writer's Workshop and how we worked together to become a personal learning network of thoughtful, passionate writers. I realized I needed to apply those same ideas and values to Reader's Workshop.
We started by looking at ourselves as readers.  What do we like to read?  Where do we read?  How do we select the books we read?  Next, we completed our MAPs and F&P testing so we would have more information to help us select “just right” books. I gave each student a book bin which they filled with fiction and nonfiction books of their choice.  We used our right books as we moved through our mini lessons and learning targets.  Conferences were more productive because students were reading books at their level.  They were proud of their understanding and could contribute more to book club and pair share conversations.  They wrote beautiful jots supported by textual evidence.
My students and I love to share our knowledge with others, especially our Kindergarten buddies.  We had just learned about text features in nonfiction, so we decided to use our favorite books in our bins to introduce these features to our buddies.  Each student used their Post Its to identify the features and prepare their individual mini lessons.  When we met with our buddies, each 6th grader shared their book and skillfully explained the features and their purpose in a language that their younger buddy could understand.  I was so proud of my readers.  Not only were they demonstrating the understanding of text structure, they were all workshop teachers that day.  

Then it happened.  I noticed that the conversations in class were about the books they were reading, and not just during Reader’s Workshop.  They would come into class in the morning and while I took attendance they would talk about what they read the night before.  I had students taking their books out to recess so they could read a few extra pages since they felt they didn’t read enough during our workshop time before lunch.  I started to panic.  I looked at my unorganized classroom library and worried that I did not have enough books to keep up with my ravished readers.  I made a desperate plea to my classroom parents for donations of lonely books from their homes.  Our PTO generously donated some funds so we could order new books too.  I asked students what they were reading and ordered only the books they suggested.  The books came right before spring break. A few of the books came out of the box and went immediately into backpacks headed to warm destinations.
Once we got our books, my students and I worked together to make our library beautiful.  Each student took a few books and used their Chromebooks to identify the genre and reading level.  We organized our books in bins by genre.  We were so proud when it was completed because it was a class effort.
We have a digital classroom library on
BIblioNasium.  Each student has a digital bookshelf to keep track of the books they have read.  They can recommend books to classmates and search for new books so they always have a book waiting on their shelf.  
My hope is we can continue our reading momentum into the summer.  I will keep our BiblioNasium accounts active and encourage my students to update their bookshelves. They can recommend books to classmates for summer reading.  I will also keep our
class blog live and encourage students to blog about the books they are reading as one of the independent blogging ideas.  We have written to authors in our blogs, like Ralph Fletcher and Peter and Paul Reynolds, and they have generously commented on our posts.  My students know that our blogs have an authentic, global audience, so they want to continue to blog over the summer.  This will be a great place to continue their excitement and passion about books with their classmates and global community during the summer months.  

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Google Forms for Conferring in Writer's Workshop

If someone asked me what my favorite part of Writer’s Workshop is, I would tell them it is conferring with my students. I love talking to my students about their writing. We laugh and cry together as their stories unfold. My writers deserve this uninterrupted time to be heard.  It is my job to supply honest feedback and help them develop their craft. How’s It Going? A Practical Guide to Conferring with Student Writers by Carl Anderson is my favorite resource on conferring.  It is filled with Post It notes and has a permanent place on my desk.
Did I mention I love talking to my students about their writing? This can be a problem when you have 23 students and conferences in workshop should average about 2-7 minutes.  I am always looking for ways to improve the conferring process without sacrificing the quality of the time spent with an individual writer or group of writers.  One idea that greatly improved the environment of our workshop was the implementation of Student PLNs.  Writers now turn to someone in their own Personal Learning Network for feedback while I am conferring with other students.  

I found that Student PLNs helped students continue to move forward with their writing while they waited, but it did not help me shorten my conferences.  I realized my conferences were taking extra time because I spent at least 5 minutes finding out what the piece was about and what skill they wanted to focus on.  I thought if I knew this ahead of time, our time together could be spent developing their craft. We are fortunate to have 1:1 Chromebooks, so I turned to Google Forms.  My students and I already use Google Forms for surveys, flipped lessons, scripts, and submitting links for Web 2.0 projects.  I created a Pre-Conference Interview Form based on the Student Checklists in the Units of Study.

My students completed the form using their Chromebook, Student Checklist and their drafts.  The following day I was able to start conferring with my updated conferring toolkit which included my student responses from the Pre-Conference Interview Form.  This additional information proved to be not only a timesaver, but an additional connection with my students.  I would start the conference with something they shared in the form, and they would smile wide, knowing they had already been heard and the conference had just begun.  

Friday, February 14, 2014

Passion for Padlet

In honor of Valentine’s Day, I want to tell you about a Web 2.0 tool my students and I absolutely love.  It is called Padlet.  To explain what it is in simple terms, I will use a quote from Padlet’s home page, “We give you a blank wall. You put anything you want on it, anywhere. Simple, yet powerful.”  Padlet has given my class a place to post our ideas digitally for a variety of purposes for all subject areas.  

I first started using Padlet as an exit slip.  I would have my students post their thoughts at the end of the lesson or for homework so I could assess understanding, encourage collaboration, and allow students to access other resources for more information to respond to my question.  We were having such success and my students wanted a new question daily.  I decided to post inquiry questions as a way to pretest for understanding before science labs or mini-lessons in Reader’s and Writer’s Workshop.  We are also a 4C’s (collaboration, communication, creativity and critical thinking) centered classroom, so I encouraged students to come up with their own content-related questions to post to a Padlet for our class to answer.  They would submit them via a Google Form. We also used our Padlets to collaborate with our buddy classrooms in our district and across the country. We asked for advice about poetry writing from Mrs. Barnes 7th Graders in Virginia and they posted their ideas on a Padlet for us.  Recently, my class jigsawed online nonfiction resources and explored the text structure of the websites.  They recorded their findings on Padlet

Padlet is a great professional development presentation tool for educators.  I use it to get to know my workshop participants, check for understanding, and encourage feedback.  It also gives educators attending my workshop a chance to try one of the tools I use with my students, and feel the power of this collaborative learning opportunity.  It always opens up a great discussion, and I love the buzz I hear between educators discussing the possibilities for their own professional world.

There are many features in Padlet that make it unique and exciting.  The program is very easy to use since you only have to set up a few options in order for a Padlet to be ready to use.  These are: portrait, wallpaper, title, description and privacy settings.  Padlet gives you many options for the portraits and wallpaper, but I usually use my own photo for the portrait to remind my students that the question is coming from me.  I have done this as a way to remind them that classroom rules for digital citizenship apply 24/7 and our connection with our global community comes with great responsibility.  I am happy to say that they have taken this learning opportunity very seriously and have not abused the freedom.  Here are a few more examples of Padlets my students and I have created over the last two years.   

How do you use Padlet with your students? Share your ideas and lessons.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Student PLNs

If you are reading this blog, it means you are probably part of my PLN (Personal Learning Network), and for that I thank you.  As educators we should all have people to learn from on a regular basis.  We need a network of like-minded professionals to challenge our thinking and heighten our professional experience.  These can be co-workers and colleagues in our buildings, but I am sure you are reading this via Twitter, which means you are plugged into a broader global community of learners and know the potential of connecting digitally.  Since personal learning networks can include anyone who you trust to support your learning and make you better, shouldn’t we encourage our students to develop their own personal learning networks so they can experience the same benefits?
  I decided to apply this idea to Writer’s Workshop last year.  We were doing daily conferring and pair shares, but students really wanted to meet with me every day.  I explained to them I was only one perspective.  I introduced PLNs and told them about mine, locally and globally. I shared the importance of trust with PLNs.  I gave an example of how I would create a new workshop or blog and I would ask Mrs. Heizman and Mrs. Kasprowicz to critique it.  They are dear friends, but I also have great respect for them as professionals.  Mrs. Kasprowicz is a 5th/6th grade teacher, but also a published author.  Mrs. Heizman is our experienced Technology Administrator.  They are also extremely honest and will tell me what they think.  That is an essential part of the learning process if I expect to learn and grow.  

To help my students decide who was already part of their learning network, we answered the following questions:
Who helps us learn?
Who really knows us?
Who makes us laugh?
Who pushes us?
Who are our cheerleaders?
Who will be honest?
Who listens to us?
Who do we connect with locally and globally?

They went to work creating their PLN on Google Drawing.  I was happy to see they included me, a few classmates, parents, previous teachers, our current buddy classes, and Mrs. Barnes' class, our blogging buddies from Virginia.  Over the next few weeks in Writer’s Workshop, instead of asking writers to find a partner, I encouraged them to find someone from their PLN for feedback until I was able to confer with them.  They loved the term “professional” and took the responsibility seriously.

I found success with 5th Grade student PLNs, but I wondered if this same idea could be applied to younger students.  I consulted another member of my PLN, Ms. Losik, a 1st grade teacher at Merton Primary School.  Our students had done a few collaborative activities already and were comfortable working with each other. I felt my students were confident with their knowledge of PLNs and they were ready to teach their first grade buddies what a PLN is, and help them create their own so they could start using their network in 1st grade for Writer’s Workshop.  Ms. Losik prepared her students for our visit by talking to her students about their own learning experiences and brainstorming together who helps them at home and school. 

When we finally brought our students together for our PLN pair share/teach activity, the excitement was explosive. They were so proud to share the important, special people in their lives who help them learn. First the 5th graders explained what a PLN is, and shared their Google Drawings of their own PLNs.  Next, 5th Graders assisted their 1st grade buddies to brainstorm their PLN members by asking similar key questions we used to develop our own PLNs.  They wrote the names of the people and drew pictures on a graphic organizer similar to our Google Drawings.  After about 15 minutes, each 5th/1st grade pair presented their PLN.  It was interesting to note that even though these students were different ages, they both valued teachers, classmates and parents in their PLN.

This year my students continue to grow their PLN. They are excited that our blogs have reached new classrooms this year and we have made connections with famous children’s authors. Each TCRWP unit of study has a new element of excitement because the audience is no longer limited to our classroom, but reaches an unlimited global community and Personal Learning Network of their choice.  


Monday, January 6, 2014


Whenever you start a new Language Arts initiative with your students, you are always hopeful.  You want THIS program to make the difference.  The materials are purchased, the teachers are trained, the parents are informed.  Then the real work begins. Implementing real change in your own classroom. In order to do this successfully, means looking at literacy differently and creating a writing environment that looks and feels different than what has been done in the past.  Exciting! Year one of Writer’s Workshop was an absolute whirlwind in my 5th Grade classroom at Merton Intermediate School. It was new to everyone, so we learned together.

That was part of the fun.  My class and I loved conferring best.  We simply loved talking and sharing about writing.  It brought us all closer together as writers. We also had a class blog so we could continue our writing and discussions outside of the classroom. Blogging extended our audience to a global community and provided authentic learning opportunities. We loop 5/6th grade, so I was thrilled knowing we could continue what we started the following year.

I attended Teacher’s College Reading & Writing Project in August 2013 and kicked off the new Units of Study this year.  We started with Personal Narratives.  It was exciting to start our unit with experienced writers who were familiar with workshop. We spoke a common language and were living our lives as writers.  I didn’t realize just how much until 6th Grade volunteered to present “Writer’s Workshop: Year Two” at a school board meeting in November.  I started gathering artifacts and recruiting my writers to present at the meeting.  I made some amazing discoveries.

First, I asked my students, “ How are we living life differently as writers this year?”  Over the next two days students posted their responses on a Padlet.

It was exciting to see responses like:

  • “Last year I learned a lot of things that I needed to apply to my writing.  Now that I know all of those skills, it is a lot easier for me to add them to my writing without even having to think about it.”
  • “We are more aware of our surroundings so we can make the moments we have lived into small moment stories.”
  • “I think I have grown as a writer by being unique and brave.”
  • “We are writing blogs which don’t just help me, but inspire others too.  I reach many readers.”

Next, I went back to find a similar activity I did with my students a year earlier.  We were working on building stamina as writers since this was our first exposure to workshop.  My students were not exactly “enjoying” the amount of time we spent writing each day.  We discussed stamina and why it was important to build stamina in all areas of our lives. I had them each contribute to the question, “Why is Stamina Important in Writer’s Workshop?” on a shared Google Doc the same way I did with the Padlet activity.  Some of the responses were:

  • “We can build stamina by putting effort into your work.”
  • “We can build stamina with practice, practice, practice.”
  • “We can build stamina by practicing and writing stories.”
  • “We can build stamina by writing a lot at home or anywhere you go!”
For both of these activities, I posted the question on our class web site and asked my students to share their thoughts.  What a difference a year and the correct writing model can make.  What I noticed the most was the first year responses were all about the work, effort and practice. The second year responses were about the writer, blogger, inspiration, audience, life, and stories.  YES!!
We proudly presented our findings to our school board and ended the presentation with a potpourri voices share. Thanks TCRWP for your amazing resources and instruction this summer.  Most of all, thank you to my Merton 6th Grade writers/bloggers for your dedication and trust in me.  I am so proud of you!  Merton Community School Board Presentation: 11/23/2013